Big spikes in power prices under fire

August 9, 2013.

Dave Mabell


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Alberta’s electrical power system is hurting local businesses as well as consumers. Prices are soaring but, says the official opposition’s utilities critic, the provincial government is doing nothing to fix the problem.

“The current market isn’t working for families and businesses,” says Joe Anglin, speaking for the Wildrose opposition. “In order to have affordable bills for families, and predictable overheads for businesses, we can’t keep having these big spikes in power prices.”

Alberta consumers are being warned to sign onto a fixed-rate contract if they hope to cushion their power costs. Power experts say wholesale power prices jumped 207 per cent higher than a year ago, over the April-June period this year.

Elsewhere in Canada, consumers are not facing drastic price increases. But Anglin says Energy Minister Ken Hughes seems oblivious to the issue.

“The minister has a head-in-the-sand mentality,” he said in an interview. “He says there’s no problem.”

While other political parties call for Alberta’s power system to be once again regulated, as in every other province, Anglin says Wildrose wouldn’t go that far. A market-based system could work, he says, if prices were set a day ahead instead of hour by hour.

“We’ve got to change how the wholesale market operates so there aren’t these wild swings in electricity prices.”

Anglin also knocked down claims the province’s high power prices are triggered by energy shortages.

“We have an excess of electricity in Fort McMurray and more than enough in Edmonton and area,” he maintains. In southern Alberta, Enmax is building new capacity, and the wind power network continues to grow.

But some operators have mothballed power plants or taken others out of service for “maintenance” so their remaining plants can earn more, Anglin observes.

“They manipulate the system, because this government allows it,” he says. “They’d throw you in jail anywhere else, for doing this.”

As a result, Anglin says owners of some Alberta business and industries are being forced to go “off-grid” by building power co-generation plants – or to move to a neighbouring province for lower-cost power.

“This system is working very well for the (utility) players, but it’s not operating well for our economy.”

A newly elected Wildrose government would waste little time before changing the power wholesale system, Anglin says.

“If we get in to government, we’re definitely going to fix it,” he says. “This is not rocket science.”